Now that Seattle has passed a series of high-profile laws to protect workers and increase their pay, the city must make sure that businesses understand and follow the new rules, Mayor Ed Murray said Monday as he proposed creating an Office of Labor Standards.
The office would carry out education and enforcement duties related to Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, adopted in 2011; its Job Assistance Ordinance, adopted in 2013 to limit the use of arrest and conviction records in hiring decisions; and its $15 minimum-wage law, adopted this year.
The proposal, which the City Council will take up as it puts together a new budget this fall, calls for an additional $511,000 in 2015 and $660,000 in 2016 to support the new office, which would house seven full-time positions, 5½ of them new.
The money would come out of the city’s general fund.
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The Office of Civil Rights, which is currently responsible for enforcing the city’s workplace ordinances, has 1½ positions devoted to that work, at a cost of $165,000 a year.
It’s the second time in two weeks that the mayor has proposed creating a new government agency. Earlier this month, Murray asked the council to allocate an additional $610,000 in 2015 to establish a Department of Education and Early Learning.
The new Office of Labor Standards would also investigate and enforce wage theft by employers, Murray said at a City Hall news conference with Councilmember Nick Licata.
In 2011, the city made cheating workers out of pay a criminal offense, but prosecution has been lacking.
When asked Monday whether the office would initiate investigations on its own or launch probes only in response to worker complaints, Murray said he wasn’t sure.
A spokesman for the mayor later said the office would focus in 2015 on responding to complaints but would begin to use other, as-yet-unspecified enforcement tools in 2016 and beyond.
The phase-in of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage begins in April.
Murray is rolling out his proposed 2015-2016 budget piece by piece before presenting a complete version to the council on Monday.
On Friday, he asked the council for $3.3 million to hire new police officers and $1.5 million a year to support a modest increase in homeless services.
Daniel Beekman: email@example.com or 206-464-2164.